Live In Osaka 928 (Empress Valley Supreme Disc EVSD1255-1257)
Osaka Festival Hall, Osaka, Japan – Tuesday, September 28, 1971
Disc 1 (60:33) Introduction, Immigrant Song, Heartbreaker, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Black Dog, Dazed And Confused
Disc 2 (72:00) Stairway To Heaven, Please Please Me, From Me To You, Celebration Day, Bron-YR-Aur Stomp, That’s The Way, Going To California, We Shall Overcome, Tangerine, Down By The Riverside, What Is And What Should Never Be, Moby Dick
Disc 3 (55:01) Whole Lotta Love, C’Mon Everybody, High Heeled Sneakers, Communication Breakdown
The latest installment of Empress Valley’s Soundboard Revolution is a nice chuck of the famed Osaka September 28, 1971 recording. The five concerts played during late September 1971 are all essential and required listening for Led Zeppelin fans. Free from the confines of the Western eyes, the band would play the five concerts in stunning fashion to hordes of mostly non English speaking audiences, the music would be the translator. These concerts have circulated among tape traders and bootleg aficionados for a long time, and hard core collectors knew the story, the concerts were recorded for possible used of a Japanese only live album. Apparently the recordings were deemed not fit for release and wiped clean, a story that seemed credible until the appearance of a soundboard recording from the first show in Osaka, Black Dog appeared in 2016.
When Empress Valley released the following evenings soundboard, the famed 9/29 concert, it drew the ire of many. The incomplete recording clocking in at 90 minutes had all the between song chatter edited out and sadly missed the entire epic Whole Lotta Love medley, coupled with a high price tag made for the more elitist collector, the quality though, was stunning. The announcement of the soundboard from 9/28 came as no surprise and like many I was checking online forums and Japanese release websites on a regular basis to find out the details. Finally news came with the details I was awaiting, “Unfortunately, this original soundboard source is incomplete. The suppliers have informed us that the only surviving portion of these amazing source tapes feature the set from Heartbreaker (fragment) through Moby Dick.”. Ok not sold yet. Then I read this recording would contain Robert’s onstage comments, finally I made my decision and took the plunge for the cheapest of the three editions, an easy choice from a pricing standpoint.
The three disc version features the new soundboard recording mixed with two audience recordings to provide the complete concert. The first and best audience recording is used for the beginning of the concert. This recording has been released numerous times, the most popular titles are Come On Everybody (Mud Dogs 008-009-010), Live In Japan (Last Stand Disc LSD 54/55/56), Please Please Me (Wendy WECD-710928), and The Bachelor Boys’ First Stand In Osaka (Empress Valley Supreme Disc 516/517/518). This recording is used for all of Immigrant Song and up to 4:51 of Heartbreaker, just in time for Jimmy to play the Bourree part of his solo. There is a cut at the last 20 seconds of Stairway To Heaven at the 10:12 mark, the audience source is used for the final “…Stairway to Heaven…” and the following moans. The soundboard cuts back in just prior to Robert’s “Arigato. Good evening. You are too quiet, much too quiet, dishonorably quiet, it’s not cool. Not far away to the east”.
There has been discussion about a portion of We Shall Overcome having an audience patch, specifically during Robert’s a Capella singing, while it does sound different I believe it is definitely not a true audience source but the soundboard, I checked both audience sources for this concert to compare, the clapping during this is very loud on both and do not know how they could isolate Robert’s voice from an audience source. Perhaps an explanation would be that microphones used to capture the audience portion of the soundboard were used, like a sound-man moving levels of different microphones around. The timbre or the ambiance does not sound anything like the audience sources either, I am sure someone with engineering knowledge will best explain it. The soundboard ends after Moby Dick just after Robert says “John Bonham…Moby Dick”. As reported online, this new soundboard does contain all of Robert’s between song banter, for this I used the Ramble On Zep for Plantation comparison and its all there plus a few tidbits that the audience recordings were not able to pick up.
It was stated that the quality of this new soundboard was a notch below that of 929, this is true. The 929 has a wider and better range of frequencies, fat bottom end and beautiful crisp highs, this new 928 is a bit flatter sounding. It has the same fat bottom end with the difference being the high end is not as bright. It is as clear and detailed as the 929 and to my ears does a better job of capturing the atmosphere of the Festival Hall versus being a direct board feed. Both have virtually no tape hiss to speak of and are equally powerful with the 928 being a bit more consistent, if I was to assign ratings based purely on sound, 929 would be a 10, 928 would be a 9.25. I did compare the Black Dog from this new release to the one found on the Eelgrass How The East Was Won title. The Eelgrass is louder with very clear highs and when you listen to them back to back the over mastering of the Eelgrass title is clearly heard, that metallic background noise ruins it, this new version sounds natural.
There is a lot to take in on this release, listen then listen again, and again, at least the first two discs which require repeated spins at high volume. Unlike the 929 soundboard, the inclusion of the between song banter and dead air at times, really adds to your enjoyment as well as ones overall understanding and appreciation of this concert, the slightly less popular Osaka gig. The capacity of the Festival Hall was only 3,000 and the intimacy can be heard in the audience and soundboard sources, one could only dream of seeing Led Zeppelin playing in such a setting, when one closes their eyes while the soundboard is playing, you almost can.
Since I’ve Been Loving You is at its best, the band play it slow and the song builds before exploding in typically dramatic fashion. Jimmy’s solo is to die for, never missing a note with the entire song intense yet relaxed, just beautiful. Black Dog is bombastic in its power and Dazed And Confused is simply incredible. The clarity and mix are spot on, every little nuance is heard, the Communication Breakdown tease before the first notes and Page’s snippet of the old Yardbirds’ chestnut Over Under Sideways Down are really nice to hear in this quality.
Celebration Day is devastating in this recording, Jones’ bass sounds frantic and provides a deep bottom end which Jimmy proceeds to just fly over, throw in Bonham’s drums and you are leveled, superb playing and incredible to hear the intricate playing so clearly. The acoustic section is the calm of the storm for the Japanese tour, the band play a three minute complete version of Bron-YR-Aur Stomp that segues into a gentle That’s The Way. It is quite interesting to hear the interplay between Jimmy and John Paul during Going To California, Jones seems to play the mandolin a bit safe, at times you wish he would just go for it, he doesn’t and the song floats melancholy by. While We Shall Overcome is a snippet, Down By The Riverside is a pure moment of what starts as improvisation that moves into a hootenanny, John Paul wastes no time in getting to the organ to accompany the others, a revelation. The entire acoustic section, like the other four shows, is an intimate conversation between group and audience, it’s cool how they pick up on small snippets like We Shall Overcome, like a musical translation turning into a conversation.
The audience sources are used for the rest of the concert, sadly it has been reported that the rest of the concert has not survived and again we are robbed of hearing the incredible Whole Lotta Love medley, and not least the unique encores from this concert in soundboard quality. At first it was difficult to listen to the third disc, the soundboard was like a warm bed on a cold morning, the audience sources is the cold floor (great analogy huh?) but as the band blaze through the Whole Lotta Love medley you get sucked in, super relaxed with great playing by the entire band. Source 1 is used for Whole Lotta Love up until the end of Hello Mary Lou then source 3 kicks in for the remainder of the song, all of C’Mon Everybody and all but the last 30 seconds of High Heeled Sneakers and finally the second source is used for the end of that song and Communication Breakdown. The transitions between sources are smooth and nicely done.
The packaging is a simple glossy gatefold sleeve with the cover and middle having live shots from the event, the back having a simple track list and concert poster reproduction. The discs themselves have a picture of Bonzo on them, something new from EV and there is an OBI on the set as well and is limited to 200 copies. After listening to the first two discs of this title for the past few days I am satisfied with my purchase, there is a lot here and I am looking forward to further digesting it over the next few days.